A plague of vampire horseflies which bring with them the threat of serious infection has illustrated why Britain must lead the race to develop new antibiotics, a charity has claimed.
The recent heatwave has seen populations of bloodsucking clegs – or horseflies – reach Mediterranean levels, Antibiotic Research UK (ANTRUK) said.
Females feed off blood, with the charity warning that bites could result in painful swellings and the possibility of infections which might not be treatable with existing antibiotics.
It said, while the majority of small but nonetheless painful insect bites and stings can be treated at home with over-the-counter medication, itchy horsefly bites take longer to heal and can become infected, especially if scratched.
The effects of an infected horsefly bite can include a raised and nasty rash, dizziness, shortage of breath, and weak and swollen limbs.
Current treatments include antihistamine and steroid creams and in serious cases, broad-spectrum antibiotics.
But with bacteria in our bodies becoming more resistant to antibiotics, it can be difficult to find the right treatment to fight infections, and in some cases this has resulted in the threat of amputation or death.
The charity’s chief executive, Professor Colin Garner, said: “Here is a prime example of why we need to develop new medications fast to keep up with our changing climate and unexpected situations such as a horsefly bite epidemic.
“We have been warning for some time that our antibiotics are so ineffective that we could reach the situation where people will once again die from an infected scratch or bite.
“That tragic moment may just have come. I personally got bitten recently by a horsefly and it is very painful. I am self-medicating with creams and an oral antihistamine tablet to ensure the bite site does not become infected.”
NHS guidance advises visiting your GP if an insect bite results in symptoms of an infection such as pus, increased pain, redness and swelling.
ANTRUK wants to see the Government, drugs companies, research charities and even members of the public who are still intent on demanding antibiotics from their doctor, to work together to avoid antibiotic resistance.
Prof Garner added: “It is entirely possible in 2018 that you can die of an insect bite, not just in some hot foreign clime, but here in Britain.
“We have not invested in the kinds of antibiotics we need to keep up with devious and ever-changing bacterial infections.
“Now we are in real danger that we could return to a pre-antibiotic past, where dirty wounds, bites and conditions like TB and typhoid might kill.”